Week 10 – Going for Gold

“We are going for Gold” were the words of inspiration that Satnam Chana sent my way at week 9.  It is hard to believe that I am on my 10th week of a 12 week program specifically designed to help me reach my fitness goals.  At this point, I am pleased to say that I have been at the gym 5x a week all this time for at least 90 minutes each session.   The goal that I set for myself at the onset was perhaps a lofty one at that, and some may even say unrealistic for 12 weeks.  I am happy to report that progress has been positive and I have had reassurance and encouragement of the same from Satnam.   I am reminded of the importance of setting a goal or creating/having a vision…something that will keep you going since focus is so crucial for a process like this.   It has been an amazing journey to this point.  The immediate revelation that has been reaffirmed is that the body is indeed a “temple”; when respected and taken care of, it will respect you back with greater focus, greater alertness, greater strength, improved posture, more effective stress management….I could go on an on….the release of the healing “endorphin” effect is simply too great and too powerful….I am truly grateful for that.  Indeed….body, mind and spirit all need to be nurtured, taken care of, and respected in order to achieve the health I believe we all aspire towards.  I have mentioned before in some of my posts, I have personally noticed an improvement in my singing, performing, and commitment to “reyaaz” ; areas which always need more improvement and refinement.  Moreover, on the note of singing, I have noticed that I do push myself a bit more, or perhaps a little more “courageous” in trying to hit higher octave notes :). 


I honestly do not know where weeks 7-9 went.  It has been an incredible challenge  for me physically, mentally and emotionally.  As of week 7, Satnam had “raised the bar” (no pun intended :)) by increasing the workout intensity with respect to strength resistance exercises and cardio.  I have been amazed that I could last an hour on the stairclimber  (after half an hour of intense circuit of weights) when 6 months ago, I could only do 15 minutes (with a lot of struggle I may add).  Over the last several weeks, I have had moments where I have “hurt” physically with aches and pains, I have experienced numerous times first hand what it means to be “depleted”; a state where you barely have the strength to keep yourself standing on your two feet… where you are just yearning for a minute to sit or lie down….but you cannot because you need to stay true to the exercise regime and its intensity…I have experienced what it means to lift to “failure” where you try to do just one more rep (after about 30 or 40) even though you feel the burn….you feel the pain in the muscle….that pain in an odd way,  actually starts to feel like a “good” pain…..I have been amazed at how the human body can do even more when you think you cannot…indeed, we can be our own worst enemy…challenging yourself to become even better, even stronger is the key….this I guess holds true for all idealistic virtues….never stop trying or learning….keep going…..the aspect of mental focus is just so crucial in order to see a positive outcome….I am by no means close to being an expert on fitness….however, I can assure you, if you have the drive, determination, perserverance, along with an expert coach/trainor you will succeed.   As I said before, with each lift of a weight, or with each step on the climber, it has been the chant of “wa-he-gu-ru” that has kept the focus solidified….when my focus has wavered, I have counted on “wa-he-gu-ru” to keep me going… though I have now come to respect, focus on the process versus the outcome, we are indeed going for gold…   

Vandana Vishwas – A gifted singer…a unique talent…a piercing voice

 Several years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Vandana Vishwas, one of the leading exponents of South Asian Music in North America. Vandana specializes in composing, arranging and singing a sub-genre of Indian music comprising expressive song forms such as Ghazals, Bhajans, Geet and Thumri.  In my opinion, this girl can sing anything with ease :).

I am happy to say that Vandana ji has now become a good friend and sister to me.  If you can ever imagine an early morning dew drop, or a clear blue sky, or the essence of child’s smile, you would not be too far in experiencing the impact that Vandana ji’s voice has on the listener.  An individual who has had a very rigorous training in the musical arena, brings with her a softness, a gentleness, and an unwavering class and sophistication in her singing.  I am often impressed with her “tyaari” (preparation) and dedication to reyaaz (discipline of practice) 

Vandana was born in the historical city of Lucknow in north India, a place known for its rich artistic heritage.  By the time she was barely 16, she had already earned a Sangeet Visharad, the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in Indian classical vocal music. Over the course of the next five years, she earned her bachelor’s degree in Architecture but also continued to win every local and regional vocal competition. Vandana was a contract artist with All India Radio where she sang songs composed by her and her mentor Mr. D.K. Gandhe.  According to her, her unique vocal expressive style is a result of her hard work and training under Shri D.K. Gandhe.

During one of her All India Radio recording sessions, she was heard by renowned ghazal maestros Ustaad Ahmed and Mohammed Hussain who were impressed by her voice and they too shared with her the intricacies of ghazal singing.

When you meet Vandana, you will be greeted by someone who is humble, inviting, and just plainly a genuine individual.  Never once does one feel a “separateness” from her, whether you are just sitting and chilling over a cup of tea, or whether you are fortunate enough to be listening to her sing.  I firmly believe it is her authentic nature which allows her to sing with such elegance and class.  Indeed, when you hear her, something pierces you right in the heart…right within your being…right within the realm of your spirit. 

I came to know that in an unfortunate twist of fate, just two days after Vandana’s birth, a careless nurse poked her with a contaminated syringe, causing permanent septic arthritis and virtual immobility of her left hip joint.  This resulted in a chronic condition with frequent acute pain.  I now have even more respect for this individual and artist.  Never once in my meetings with Vandana ji have I seen this physical challenge inhibit her in any way.  On the contrary, she has proved time and time again, that with courage, persistence, dedication, ambition and keeping a positive outlook, anything is possible. 

Her accolades are many, and too extensive to mention here.  However, it is important and an honor for me to fill you in on some of her awards.  She is the winner of the the Vox-Pop award for World Traditional Song of the year at the 10th US Independent Music Awards 2011 (IMA) and Toronto Best World CD Award by Toronto Exclusive Magazine 2010.

The international success and critical acclaim of Vandana’s debut CD ‘Meera – The Lover…’, released in 2009, has catapulted Vandana into the north American World Music scene, where within a very short time, she has carved a niche for herself. Apart from winning these awards, Vandana has been nominated for several other awards such as the Canadian Indies 2010, TIMA (Toronto Independent Music Awards) 2010, Marty Awards 2010 by Mississauga Arts Council (honourable mention) and 2011, K.M. Hunter award for music by Ontario Arts Council 2011, to name a few. 

Now she has come up with her sophomore music album ‘Monologues’, that takes musical creativity to a new level by redefining the treatment of traditional south Asian song forms such as Ghazals, Nazms, Geet & Thumri with some interesting western influences. With her husband Vishwas penning down seven of the nine songs in the CD and the other two being written by ghazal immortals Jigar Muradabadi and Mirza Ghalib, the album is a treat for lovers of Indian music and poetry alike. Like the first one, this album is also co-produced by Vandana and Vishwas. The CD was released in Canada in January 2013 and an Indian launch followed in Mumbai by hands of legendary Indian singer Suresh Wadkar.

As is evident, I cannot give justice to Vandana in a short blog entry.  Suffice is to say, she is here, and she is making an impact with her music and voice globally.  Together, Vandana and Vishwas are the perfect compliment for each other.  I have no doubt, this is just the beginning…if you have not had a chance to experience a live performance by Vandana ji….what are you waiting for?!  It will be an experience that will leave you yearning for more and a voice that will pierce your heart…. 

For more information, check out: www.vandanavishwas.com


Journey to optimal wellness – “There is no turning back now”


“There is no turning back now bro” were the words of wisdom that Satnam Chana inspired in me this past week.  Last week marked the end of 5 weeks of training under the tutelage of Satnam.  Over the past 5 weeks, I have been challenged both mentally and physically to levels of intensity that I honestly cannot remember  enduring….not even as a young teenager playing for my high school basketball team – and boy, were those ever grueling basketball practices….had to be at school for 7a.m. for drills, exercises and endless “suicide runs”….however, my current training is taking the “cake” on this one….every week, Satnam has strategically been pushing me towards higher intensity workouts…he is certainly encouraging me not to underestimate what one may be capable of achieving when it comes to fitness.  During week 4, I had completed 4 days of circuit training with a day of cardio.  Week 5 was a different story…not only did I have to do circuit training 4 days a week, but I was now to follow up the circuit with ½ hour of cardio, and on the cardio day, I was to double my time on it to an hour!  Initially, when Satnam had advised me of the routine for week 5, my immediate reaction was, “this looks intense and challenging”.  After re-gaining my composure (lol), I began the process of mentally preparing myself.  I have to say, mental preparation and focus is such a key for any fitness, be it physical, emotional or spiritual. I also have to say, it was great to hear the feedback from Satnam after 4 weeks.  He was happy with my progress and has been nothing but inspiring and encouraging.  Moreover, his words last week of  “there is no turning back now”  basically became ingrained into my consciousness….those words literally lit a fire under me and I was determined not only to continue proving my commitment to myself but to stay true to my word.  It is now becoming more and more clear and reaffirms how important it is to have a coach… a teacher….a guide… a motivator.  Last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, I got through the circuits and cardio each day focusing on the vision…the goal….just to be optimally fit…I am not setting any “deadlines” but just nurturing the process with as much dedication as possible…through the pain and sweat, I found myself with a surge of immense energy around 11p.m. Wednesday night!  Last Wed, I was on the stairclimber for 1 hour…that was the first time I had attempted that long of a period on that particular cardio machine….for those of you who have been on the stairclimber, you can attest to the fact that it is a full body workout and you will be sweating buckets!  There was a time when I could only barely do 20 minutes on that thing….now, by no means am I going crazy intense like some of the people I see on the climber…Satnam advised me to do slow to medium pace, but non-stop.  I decided to increase the speed every 5 to 10 minutes….So by the 40th minute I was definitely at a high-medium speed…sweat had now enveloped my dastaar (turban) and I could feel my clothes drenched from top to bottom….my legs were starting to give out….it was hurtin!  There were many moments when I wanted to slow the speed to a minimum….just yearning to do so just even for a minute to get some reprieve….then the mental focus thankfully kicked in, “there is no turning back now Onkar”….words of Satnam that kept resonating within me… I said to myself…”get through it, get through it….”   At the 55th minute, I slowed that baby down and was in heaven!  Back to Wednesday night….so it was 11p.m. and I found myself having a surge of energy!  I honestly wanted to go back to the gym and lift some weights!  So through a somewhat exciting restless sleep (normally I am such a great sleeper) I could not wait for the morning to arrive….On Thursday morning, I looked at the clock….it was 5:15 a.m.  Got ready for the gym and was there by 5:45a.m.  It was such a great feeling!  Arriving at the gym at this hour meant there were many positives….it wasn’t busy so I could do my circuit “araam naal” (with ease) and with no waiting in between sets for others to finish….I almost had the gym to myself….by 7a.m. I had finished my routine and headed home to get ready for the day…the wife was surprised to see me all decked out and ready by 7:30a.m. J  Normally, I workout in the afternoons, so that particular morning was a rare occurrence….there is certainly a great feeling of accomplishment when you can finish your workout routine before your day even starts.  Friday’s routine completed 5 weeks.  At this point, I am fairly pleased with my progress and the process of the same.  Hitting the gym 5x a week is indeed something that is possible.  We all have busy lives, we all have “so much on our plate”…..but I feel committing at least an hour towards your physical fitness  at least 4-5x a week will result in optimal mental, emotional and spiritual “fitness”….a key if  you want to pursue your journey of life being ambitious, interested, creative… but without the sense that “your plate is full”….rather, with the sense that, your plate will never feel full J….

Journey to optimal wellness – “Have to follow through….”

As of this past Friday, I completed week 4 of my training regime under the guidance and inspiration of Satnam Chana.  By the end of this week, I was so looking forward to my off days on Saturday and Sunday J.  This week has been a bit more challenging as I was feeling “under the weather”.  As they say, the “show must still go on”.  I continued with my regular routine of work, music, exercise, family etc.  On Thursday, I started experiencing some symptoms of what appeared to be the start of a flu.  Friday, the muscle aches, malaise and a chest cough began.  Throughout the week, (like a good Naturopathic Doctor) I had been hitting it hard with adequate hydration, plenty of vitamin C and following a healthy eating plan.  What got me through my workout on Friday was simply the reminder that I had given my word to Satnam.  I was compelled to follow through on his training regime and my commitment to the same.  After all, about a month ago I specifically requested him to guide me towards my optimal health goals.  Since that point, he has been nothing but professional, inspirational, a great motivator, and has been invaluable in guiding me on this journey.  How could I not follow through?  I have always believed strongly in staying true to your word.  I definitely try to do so with any commitment I decide to undertake.  This was no different.  Amidst the fatigue, malaise, and generalized achiness, I hit the gym.  On my way there, I recall speaking with my wife and telling her that I will perhaps modify the plan for today since I am not 100%.  Once I got into the gym however, things changed.  I saw everyone busy working out, some on treadmills, a few on the bikes, others stretching and more on the free weights (my favourite J).  It was quite motivating at that moment.  You see so many different individuals at different levels of health working towards a common goal.  In fact, there are some that I see everyday who visibly have many health challenges, yet they keep going….they keep running…..they keep biking….they keep lifting….it certainly puts my you know what in place!   So that initially little voice inside me became a strong….ambitious…. force if you will, that convinced me to stay true to the plan as recommended…no short cuts….it was time to exercise to failure!  I agreed this would be the better way to approach the gym today.  Friday marked the end of the 4th week where I followed an interesting circuit of weights for varying muscle groups and planks which followed completion of each set; specifically, I did 4 sets each of flat bench, squats, triceps, wide pull downs, shoulder military press, and bicep curls in a carefully designed circuit by Satnam.   His motto to me for hitting the gym is, “get in there… and get out!”  Seems to work well for me and my schedule. I have found these workouts challenging and intense on many levels.  I find by the end of each session, I am totally depleted but I have only spent half the time I would normally have spent per gym session over the last 2 years.  It seems Satnam is teaching me how to exercise “smart” but with positive outcomes.  The good news is I am finding the next day I am able to “replete” myself so I am ready to go again!  It is never too late to hit the gym folks!  Find someone who can guide you, stay fit, and stay true to your word….  

The Chana brothers – two brothers….one song…


My first introduction to Hardeep Chana and his younger brother Jasmeet (Jammi) Chana was about 13 years ago.  I was recently married and was invited to Newark for kirtan programs.  After the program, I met their father (Balbir Singh) who was eager to invite me and my new bride to his home in Connecticut.  There was no way I was going to refuse his invite; one because of his warm and loving personality, and two, his genuine love for kirtan and more specifically Gurmat Sangeet and Raga.  About a few hours later, we were sitting in their living room listening to Bhai Avtar Singh compositions over a cup of my favourite good ‘ol desi cha (cardamom, fennel….yummy!).  That evening, they invited me to the local Gurudwara to do kirtan, where if memory serves me correctly, I sang a shabad in Raag Kalyaan J.  At that time, the Chana brothers were just 2 young little Singh’s whose interest and passion for music was clearly evident even at that time.  Over a decade later, I have been fortunate to have been connected with Hardeep and Jammi more closely as they have now become “locals” to us.

I can remember the first time I invited Hardeep and Jammi to accompany me for a kirtan at an Anand Karaj.  My initial call was received with great enthusiasm and eagerness.  You can always sense the passion in the voice of those who simply live for music.  For them, music is not a mere hobby, but a calling, a reason to breathe, or shall I say the reason that they do breathe.  When the day finally came, we took a few moments to tune the saaz (musical instruments).  Even tuning can be so grounding, so centering.  I am sure most musicians who take it seriously know exactly what I am talking about.  It’s that moment when you can begin to set the mood, set the “tone” (no pun intended), the ambience…when you can for a moment be so grateful for “sur” (musical note).   Moreover, is it not so amazing, so inspiring, when the tuning hits just the right note? Again, those who are familiar with the importance of the same will totally know what I am talking about here.  If the instruments are not “in tune”, the experience of the kirtan or any musical performance for that matter,  cannot meet its potential….or rather, I don’t believe it will have the same impact on the listener and the performer; indeed, sur is equated with wholeness, creation, the creator….the universal sound.  You can always tell the depth of an individual’s musical journey with the way they handle their musical instruments.  Just notice how they care for it, be it the unpacking and packing of it, the time that they devote for its care, the respect that they show towards the instrument before even playing it (as a sacred gift if you will…).  Without a doubt, I have seen this in both the Chana brothers. 

As we sat on stage, you could feel a comfort…a poise….the tanpura resonated on “c” and we began with an alaap (opening melodic piece before musical composition)….keep in mind, we did not really sit down for any reyaaz (practice) sessions prior to this.  Very quickly, Hardeep brought a “brilliance” to the darbar hall as he complimented the alaap and kirtan with beautiful strokes on the Taus (Gurmat Sangeet stringed instrument) in Rag Bilawal….we were singing Bhai Avtar Singh’s bandish, Gur Pooray Meri Raakh Layee (one of my favourites).  He played effortlessly and to top it, brought excellent vocal support to the kirtan.  What can I say about Jammi?  Like his older brother, he was a superstar on the tabla.  I am often amazed at his control, precision, innovation and improvisations at such a young age….but then again, I am not surprised…they are both gifted, blessed….and they continue to be blessed because they are just plain and simply, genuine and humble dudes J  Jammi was hitting every “sum” and challenging me at times as well J.  Kirtan with them seemed “just what the doctor ordered”  – healing, balanced, inspirational.  I look forward to playing with these 2 whenever the opportunity presents itself.  I had a chance to ask both of them about their training and motivation for getting into music.

This is what Jammi had to say:

“I’ve been playing tabla since 7-8 years old. I started learning from my family and picking up a few things from tabla players of raagi jaathas that used to come stay at our house (Bhai Avtar Singh, Bhai Gurmeet Singh Shant). When I was about 12, I started to learn from Ustad Avtarjit Singh Ji (also known as Honey). I learned from him for about 2 years before he passed away. I continued from his father Ustad Prof. Ranjit Singh Ji. About 2 years ago, I met Pinky Ji (Ustad Sukhwinder Singh ji) and started to learn from him. The two gharanas that I belong to are Punjab and Benaras and I play jori-pakhawaj as well as tabla.

This is what Hardeep had to say:

”With me… I learnt from all the raagi’s that used to come over to our place. I was heavily influenced by Gurmeet singh Shant and Bhai Avtar Singh Ji.  I was officially a shagird of Pt. Kinnar Seen for Sitar, although I never spent very much time with him. We are now back in touch and he helps me out with palta’s for my Taus.  

Professor Ranjit Singh Ji is a huge inspiration for me. I learned vocals from him as well as accompaniment (for example, following people with Taus). 

Prof Ji learned from Almast Ji as well as many other esteemed tabla and vocalists

. Then came Pt. Vinayak Phetak… a vocalist of the Gwalior gharana. 

His lineage of music goes back to DV Paluskar.  

And now very recently, I’ve only literally just begun with Tanmay Deochake for harmonium


Honestly… the reason why we are into music is because of our dad as he inspired us in this direction. 

All of it started with doing Kirtan and listening to old recordings of Bhai Shamsher Singh Zakhmi and all those cool guys

…that’s where my motivation and passion began… and it just escalated from there



Without a doubt, the Chana brothers take their music training seriously but on the other hand, you will not find two guys are who are more “chill”, fun to be around, humble, and just want to live life to the fullest.  In my interactions with them, one thing is always clear, they both seem to have a connection with each other when it comes to music….a connection that is beyond that of brothers….it’s the connection that has a common theme of  “sur” and “taal”…they are 2 unique individual’s….yet their song is one….










Journey to optimal wellness – It’s “Waheguru” with each step…

So as of yesterday,  I entered week 4 of my training regime (courtesy of Satnam Chana).  My body is starting to adapt to the stricter meal planning and more intense fitness routine.  I have to admit though, on Friday it took a lot to get through the workout.   I had finished my weight routine which was basically 5 set’s of Smith’s machine Military Press to front of face (50 reps, 40 reps, 30 reps, 20 reps and 10 reps, increasing by 5 pounds each time with 30 seconds between sets).  I always enjoy lifting weights.  Quite frankly, I look forward to weights and could probably just devote all my exercise time to them.  Just seems more fun for me and I guess which guy does not want to keep working and improving on their musculature J   I then headed to the stairclimber.  As I got on, was feeling pretty good.  Entered my weight, entered 30 minutes, entered the level, and here we go.  The first 10 minutes were not too bad.  Keep in mind, I am now on an exercise routine 5 days a week, sat/sun off, and this past Friday was the completion of the 3rd week.  As Satnam has inspired in me, if I wanted to take my fitness to the next level , I will have to have the right combination of a regimented diet and depleting workouts.  As I passed 10 minutes on the stairclimber, I increased the step rate.  A few minutes later, started to feel the “hurt” in my legs….especially the shins.  There was a time around the 18 minute mark when that “stop” button was looking oh so tempting.  What I remembered about working out was to keep yourself mentally focused…. aware….clear… and trying not to let the physical take over.  So I did what any guy who loves kirtan would do and started chanting “Waheguru” with each step.  Slowly but surely, my awareness shifted from the physical pain to the chant.  But I would soon find myself feeling the pain again, and even more intense, at which point I am telling myself, “focus, focus, focus!  Waheguru, Waheguru….”  At 23 minutes, that “stop” button looked even more tempting.  I told myself, I could end all this aching and hurting right now….I was hearing myself say, “you have been so great for the past 3 weeks….you can stop now…there’s only 7 minutes left…so what if you only do 23 minutes today?”  It would have been so convenient….yet, I did not do so….I reminded myself of the goal and vision that I have in mind….I reminded myself that I have given Satnam my word that I will remain dedicated to his plan….I reminded myself that I have to be accountable to myself….the chanting got me through it…..and it will continue to get me through it…..at the end of 3 weeks, has it been worth it?  One hundred percent indeed!  I am looking forward to seeing the outcome in the next several months.  Feeling energetic, ambitious….. and playing and singing on the harmonium has never been so exhilarating as it is these days….

Journey towards improved fitness

So it’s been a while since I have sat down to blog.  About 2 years ago, I started on a journey to become even more healthier.  For me, this meant becoming more physically “fit”.  Fortunately for me, music has been and always will be that constant source of strength and inspiration for my emotional and spiritual well being.  As they say, optimal health is a reflection of a healthy mind, body and spirit.  There were essentially two fundamental influences in my life that encouraged this transformation over the last 2 years.  One was the constant nagging 🙂 from my better and very caring half (Baljeet) and  second, my day job as a Naturopathic Doctor.  It was clear that if I wanted to make an impact on the health of individuals who came to see me, I would have to practice what I preach.  From the onset, I have to thank Baljeet for her never ending inspiration (yeah….let’s call it that instead 🙂 as if it was not for her, perhaps I would still be sitting around with too much extra weight!  Over the last 2 years, I have been successful in shifting my diet to one that is even more healthier (minimal processed foods, no sugar, minimal gluten, hardly any take-out, plenty of fruits and vegetables, healthy proteins (beans, lentils, quinoa, nuts and seeds) and carb’s (oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa), plenty of water, herbal tea’s etc.  This has been coupled with hitting the gym at least 4x a week where I would spend about an hour each session doing cardio and weights.  It has been a journey that was challenging at the onset.  With consistency, dedication, and commitment – key factors for anything that you are passionate about – I am happy to report that the outcome has been extremely beneficial.  Yet, it does not end here.  It is important we continue challenging and pushing ourselves, continue to seek ways to improve our body, mind and spirit.  Learning never ends.  Fitness never ends.  It is with this spirit that I decided to work towards my next level of health.  This would require even more due diligence with the diet and exercise regime.  However, I knew that in order to successfully reach my next level of health and fitness, I needed a coach.  I was fortunate to find Satnam Chana!  A guy who is nothing but inspiring, motivating, and the ideal role model for commitment towards optimal health.  Satnam has had a passion for fitness since he was 8 years old, the health part came later in his life.  Today, as a 45 year old (who actually looks like he is 30!), his passion for health and fitness has evolved not only to living a life of balance but helping others to achieve their health and fitness.  

Satnam says, “I believe we have been given a gift of mind, body and soul and so often I see it being destroyed, raped, diseased and taken advantage of by over indulgence.  I believe one can attain happiness, peace and medicine by making the right food choices integrated with an intense fitness regime.  It takes practice, consistency and a huge amount of discipline to acheive it.  We all have our calling in life, a calling to help others in many different ways, this is mine”.

These are certainly amazing words to live our day to day lives by.  Before closing this post, you know I would somehow bring music into the discussion!  I do have to honestly say, with the weight loss that has been achieved thus far, the singing has become more enjoyable, more grounded, more in tune, and I am actually able to hit some notes past C sharp! For those who know me, I am basically a baritone singer (strong influence from Jagjit Singh 🙂  so it is refreshing to see that I may have some potential when it comes to singing 🙂   I do intend to have you all travel on this journey of fitness with me with of course some discussion on music as well. I will try my best to blog as often as possible. Let us see what the next 3 months have in store for me and what the outcome will be! 


Our unconquerable spirit

As most of you know, my blog entries tend to pertain to the musical realm.    This one does not and it will be one that I will never need to try to remember because it has now become ingrained into the “soul’s library” of  sakhi’s and stories of the Guru’s times, and those of our current century.

I first heard of the Wisconsin tragedy via a text as we were out with our children and family.  The first reaction to receiving the text  (which read “shootings at Gurudwara, several dead, possible hostage situation”) was a sense of mental and emotional paralysis.  All else became insignificant.  It was now all about finding out what happened, getting more information about the details of the events.  Very quickly, the story of the massacre was unfolding and I found myself mirroring each incoming detail with deeper emotions.   As each detail entered the psyche, the soul cried out for those that were killed, injured or kept hostage.   My 9 year old son immediately embraced the situation with curiosity and questions.  Yet, this was a different curiosity.  It was an intense curiosity, an intense concern, and an intense reaction.  He was feeling the pain and questioning the “hate”.  At that point, I did not have an answer for his “why”.    I could only offer parental comfort to him as I did not have the answer.  Any attempts to comfort this “little soul” were of no use.   I told him to pray and to do “mool mantar” (a short Sikh prayer reminding us of the essence of God) as a way for him to “realign”.   However knowing him, he was most likely already expressing his concerns through prayer.

At that moment in time, it was simply a state of shock, disbelief, an agony, a restlessness.   When senseless tragedies like this occur, we  collectively go through the motions of various emotions.   It touches you in places where it hurts creating deep pain, where it reminds you of all the “hate” you, a family member or friend may have experienced.   It brings back the times when at recess someone ripped of your turban because you looked different from the rest, or when you were bullied and prevented from going to the boys washroom or when you were constantly told to “go back to your country paki”.  Somehow, we managed to get through all that with the support of our parents, friends, sangat (devotional congregation).  We were told to keep the Guru in mind and to face life with an unwavering courage.   Visual’s of the Guru’s sacrifices and those of individual martyrs of the faith appear in your mind’s eye to remind you of the essence of the faith and why we have the freedom to practice the same.    No matter what situations each of us may have endured, we find solace and comfort with our faith, the sakhi’s (real stories meant to inspire and solidify spiritual values), the sacrifices.  With time and evolving wisdom, you learned that your own personal experiences made you stronger, made you understand the idea of perserverance, made you realize that every time you would fall, you would rise even higher.   Your principles and values enveloped each cell of you body allowing you to stand above and face injustices, whether towards you or anyone else.

“Hate” does not differentiate.  Think of all the innocent Sikh and Muslim’s who (post 9/11),  became profiled, singled out and attacked or killed ; think of the “hate” which destroys Mandir’s, Mosques, Gurudwara’s;  think of the “hate” that led to the attempted assassination last year of Gabriella Giffords near Tuscon where 6 were killed and 13 injured; the all too recent massacre at a midnight Dark knight screening killing 12 and injuring 58.  These stories of “hate” are unfortunately all too familiar to us and too frequent in occurrence.

I still do not have an answer for my son’s question and may never will as to why such “hate” exists and why this massacre unfolded.  However, to help him and us channel our emotions in a productive, healing, “Guru-oriented” manner, we can remind ourselves of the “sakhi’s” we grew up listening to, the stories of the Guru’s incomparable sacrifices ; this being the fuel which propagates our faith and gives us the ability to move on from the most deepest and darkest tragedies of life; I remind him to express prayers to Waheguru (God) to seek blessings for “sarbat da bhalla” – may everyone be blessed; may good come to all of humanity; we can help the families who were directly affected by praying for them to have the strength to move forward and thus start the healing process; we can pray for the departed soul’s who are now with Waheguru; I see the entire nation embracing this tragedy and providing comfort with love, compassion and support.  Leader’s of the Sikh faith  (whether young, old, male, female) are stepping up to the plate in educating and increasing awareness of not only the faith but of the true and purist of humanistic values.  All over, we are opening our Gurudwara’s (Sikh place of worship) to anyone and everyone to come and join us for our prayers and vigils and to get any questions answered pertaining to the faith; (yet,  this is nothing new as  our Gurudwara’s have always been open to anyone regardless of religion, caste, creed).  It has become an incredible movement of perserverence, teaching, learning, acceptance.  The vibration of “cherdi kala” (unwavering optimistic attitude for life) seem’s to be expanding and growing with each moment, each hour, each day and  is welcoming everyone into this “healing circle”.  I am also reminded by my wife who says, “we need to implement this spirit, this degree of unity, this depth of passion for anyone or any group that may face similar tragedies from hate”.  I am reminded that this is not just a Sikh issue, but a human issue.  It pertains to our family of humanity.   Inhumane actions deeply affect all of us who live by moral’s of compassion and equality.   The massacre in Wisconsin was an unfortunate reality and one that will never be forgotten. A fortunate reality is that our spirits will forever remain “unmassacred”

Dreams of Hope – A Bedtime Lullaby

I sit at my desk feeling honored in writing and expressing my thoughts about a recent book that I received and read.  When I held it in my hand for the first time, I was already awestruck by the cover – the layout, the choice of the soothing and calming color tones, the “poetry” behind the artists depiction and illustration of Dreams of Hope, all was more than enough to bring a sense of comfort, excitement, and pride in opening to the first page and beginning the journey of this bedtime lullaby.

It was quickly evident that each page of the written text and artwork was a culmination of an unwavering compassion, boundless passion and universal vision.  Navjot Kaur has brought her expertise and talents as a children’s author in this gift of Dreams of Hope.  Each word is carefully chosen so as to bring about a sense of 
“warmth and fuzziness” within.  There is no doubt that when reading this lullaby to our children, there can be nothing but a sense of peace, connectedness, optimism and hope.  It is without a doubt, just an incredibly “good feel” book.  Interspersed within the written text, are amazing pictures and art which obviously have been created and illustrated from a realm deep within the artist, whose vision has simply complimented Navjot in the most complete manner.  Kudo’s to the illustrator and artist Gurleen Rai.

As you read through the book, word’s like “journey”, “dream’s”, “hope”, “mantra’s”, “kushi” (happiness), “gentle breaths”, take residence in your consciousness and allow you to experience the journey through the eyes of a child.  We all need optimism.  We all need to dream, we all need a journey.  Our children are our future.  When we ourselves are optimistic, when we are inspired to envision and dream and subsequently take the step’s to make those come true, we are then in a position to be able to pass that onto our children.  This can only happen when we take the time to “connect” with our children; to look them in their eyes and communicate with them not only intellectually, but from an emotional and perhap’s spiritual perspective.  Dreams of Hope is a “gentle” book for these “gentle soul’s”.  Imagine sitting with your kid’s at their bedside and connecting with them about these simple yet profound messages of love, dreams and hope.  Without a doubt, you will find it comforting and encouraging to see your child’s face light up as they take in the “mantra’s” (a sound, syllable, word or group of words that are thought to create spiritual peace.  NOTE: definition taken from the book) that Navjot Kaur has so eloquently and effortlessly placed in this lullaby.     As Navjot Kaur says, indeed, “Together, we will see what tommorrow brings…”

I was moved yet again when I came to know from the back cover of the book that it has been written on 100% recycled paper and that a portion of the proceeds will go to support charitable organizations to enhance the lives of children.  All in all, from the process of preparing this book, creating the content for the book, the material’s used for the book, it was, it is, and it will be all about the children.  This “eco-friendly” book gives a sense of renewed hope when you read it, not only for you, but for your child.

In closing, Navjot Kaur has done it again.  Dream’s of Hope is a must read and a “must have” for your children’s library.  This is a book for everyone.  It does not matter who you are, where you come from, what your belief system may be or entail.  It is a universal message that will make you feel like a child again and again and again.
Give your child the best gift you ever could as a parent.  The gift of hope and optimism.  Make this “dream” a reality by getting one for your home today.  Visit www.saffronpress.com for more information and details.

Guneet Kaur – A humble musician with a boundless sound

I had the opportunity to meet and hear Guneet Kaur several years ago for the first time.  The moment she busted out her alaap (see previous blog posts about “alaap”), you knew you were going to listen to kirtan that would hit you, that would create an impact, and that would take you on a spiritual boundless journey.  The emotion in her voice was simply reflective of the emotion in her soul.  When music comes from the soul, watch out!  It’s going to overwhelm you in ways that you cannot describe.  Such is the nature and strength of kirtan when sung in its most authentic state.  Her kirtan offers the listener an opportunity to engage themselves with the most purest of sounds.  In my various meetings with Guneet, one thing strikes me above all of her expertise in the musical realm; it is her humbleness.  A very genuine and “down to earth” individual.  This sister knows what the “real deal” is.

Guneet Kaur is an accomplished student of Ustad Rajinder Singh from Delhi and Ustad Baljeet Singh-ji Namdhari.  She has dedicated her life to the art of Indian Classical Music and Gurmat Sangeet.   Born and raised in Dehli, Guneet Kaur has received her Masters in Indian Classical Music from Allahabad University and continues her training under the tutelage of Pandit Vinayak Pathak-ji (Gwalior Gharana)Guneet Kaur is not only a dedicated student but is also a dedicated teacher; someone who truly understands and exemplifies that learning is an all-encompassing, never-ending process.  Moreover, her openness to teach other’s the treasures of knowledge that she has acquired, speaks volumes of her integrity as an individual and musician.

Indeed, my take on her voice is, “one that flow’s from her soul boundlessly creating an angelic vibe which is all too overwhelming and all-encompassing”.  This, coupled with her knowledge of Gurmat Sangeet and Guru-Shabad creates a captivating experience for the listener.   Indeed, it’s a mutual journey for the singer and the listener.  You do not feel a separation.  The singer and listener become one, the shabad is one, the experience is the same.  Guneet Kaur has the ability to take the Sangat on a journey where the meaning of the shabad becomes apparent without even discussion of the same.  It is indeed a boundless sound, a never-ending journey when it comes to Guneet Kaur.

Special thanks to Manraj Singh for providing some bio for Guneet Kaur.